Rising numbers of people affected by dementia and increasing costs associated with caring for them have set off alarm bells throughout the world.
The World Health Organization recently called on public health authorities to make dementia a priority. It released a report last month estimating one new case every four seconds and identifying dementia as a “ticking time bomb.”
In Canada, the Alzheimer Society, which serves as an umbrella organization for all dementias, knows all about the impending explosion.
The society’s Rising Tide report, released in 2010, estimated the number of Canadians with Alzheimer’s, the most common type, and other dementias will double to 1.1 million within a generation.
The cost for caring for them will go up 10 times to $153 billion from $15 billion.
In Saskatchewan, Joanne Bracken is watching the numbers and hoping the province can handle them.
The chief executive officer of the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan said the province’s senior population is growing.
“There is still this myth and misconception that what’s happening to people is just a normal part of aging, and dementia is not a normal part of aging,” she said. “People need to pay attention to the warning signs and to get help.”
The baby boomers started turning 65 in 2011.
“We don’t have a lot of time to prepare for this. It’s already upon us.”
After age 65, the chance of developing a dementia doubles every five years. After age 85, one in three people has a dementia.
“We have this huge demographic of people over the age of 85 and we don’t have a plan of how we’re going to address this situation,” Bracken said.
Eight countries have developed national strategies to deal with it, but Canada isn’t among them.
The society educates and supports patients and caregivers. It funds re-search such as the link between depression and Alzheimer’s through the $1 million research chair in partnership with the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and its First Link program that follows newly diagnosed patients.
It relies on private and corporate donations and extensive fundraising to get things done. Governments provide less than three percent of its budget.
Bracken said although Saskatchewan piloted the First Link program in Canada, and other governments are now announcing funding to implement it, the province is falling behind in funding support for people with dementia.
“In 2008, family members provided nine million hours of unpaid care to support people living with dementia and by 2038, we’re saying that’s going to go up to 30 million hours a year. That’s just in Saskatchewan.”
There is already a shortage of long-term care beds and the Alzheimer Society is forecasting a shortage 11 times greater.
Bracken said about half of people with dementia live in long-term care.
“But when you look at the statistics in long-term care, it’s probably be-tween 68 and 100 percent of all residents have a dementia of some type.”
People are beginning to ask what they can do to lower their risk, and the answer is similar to what they can do to prevent other diseases: healthy diet, exercise and reducing stress.
Progression of the disease can also be slowed through exercise.
Brain health is a concept that people are thinking about with all the focus on concussions and hockey injuries. And while many say dementia runs in the family, that likely isn’t true.